Network Rail were in Dawlish on Wednesday 10th April to give an update on their preferred plans for phase 1 of the resilience works. Many of the local residents were also in attendance to get a closer and more informed idea about what those plans mean going forwards and how Dawlish is likely to be as a visual in the coming years.

We at Dawlish Beach Cams have always been supportive of Network Rail and the work they do in ensuring this nationally important stretch of railway line remains protected. We have frequent conversations with the communications team and indeed, have built personal friendships with many of them. It has been extremely difficult for both us and NR to agree on what is best for Dawlish as a whole and the railway as a separate entity. Whilst we would have preferred to have remained completely neutral in the process, our readership have been contacting us with concerns, questions and a desire for clarity. This has been reflected in our stance on behalf of many of you, in our comments and articles recently featured.

That said lets now look at where we are and what is likely to be the story from here onwards.

Simon talking at length with the Network Rail Communications team during the drop in session

Wednesday’s drop in session was extremely well attended once again. Network Rail rarely get such an attendance at these types of events and they had sent a large team, including representatives of designers Arup, to answer the many questions being fired in their direction. Many of those questions are similar to those that we have been asking very publicly over the past weeks.

Why does the wall need to be so big?

Network rail have engaged with engineering and coastal experts as part of their decision making process. They are not experts in sea conditions or storms and must take heed of those expert opinions and suggestions. Those opinions and suggestions have without doubt influenced the design of a wall which it is claimed, will prevent 90% of over topping of waves onto the railway. Network rail, like many of us undertaking a project of this magnitude, would be foolish indeed to ignore those designs in favour of a more pleasing, pretty picture, type of defence. If they ignore those suggestions and the defence doesn’t work then the questions raised would be undefensible. The extra 2.5 metres is exactly what those experts are predicting is needed to see the coastal railway survive the next 100 years with both rising sea levels and storm frequency as driving factors. The wave return at that height is what the experts are claiming as the best fit to return the waves, while a return 1.1 metres lower. at suggested footpath level will not provide the desired effect.

However, after talking at length to the Arup representatives we again have as many unanswered questions as we started with. Water tank testing is set up on known facts. Measurements are taken from Dawlish Buoy with wave frequency set to those patterns. Around 1,000 waves are sent during each test with the process filmed and sensors on the 1;25 model wall collecting overspill data. These waves are not representative of storm conditions. Water will go in the direction it chooses and so to recreate an accurate storm scenario is completely impossible. We are aware that the recorded footage looks nothing like an average Dawlish storm when an Easterly wind is blowing at over 40 mph. Arup are aware of this also but, there is not an option to include the wind within their tests. We and many others have always said, the biggest influence on the over topping is wind. We have so many pictures of water being driven skywards before being blown across trains and tracks alike.

Will over topping cause flooding of the railway?

Some of the information boards on display to explain the design

We are delighted that this real concern has been dealt with. Unannounced to the public, but updated in plans, there is now additional drainage included. Outlets will be formed between each precast section from a trough system installed on the track bed. This should, in theory drain any water that would have previously returned to the sea from the unwalled path. This must however be properly and regularly maintained to avoid the issues currently experienced within Dawlish station. Water reaching Marine Parade is now much more likely to remain at similar levels presently experienced during severe storms.

Why hasn’t a breakwater or reef been built?

Experts have again guided Network Rail on this question. The overwhelming response was that even with a breakwater or reef, a new higher sea wall would still be required. We wern’t given the specifics as these options were within the 500 NR started with. They quickly discounted as ineffective and not value for money. We must remember that Government are funding the resilience work and NR have been given a budget to protect the railway. They don’t have an open purse to provide the perfect solution, only the best option within a specific remit.

Where was the consultation?

Although no consultation on Dawlish choices was carried out, NR did explain why some alternative plans were rejected.

Network rail have said that as this was a planning decision then the consultation was covered by Teignbridge. NR have provided drop in sessions to consult but, most people we have spoken to have viewed this purely as a “get to know the plans” event. Most were expecting a full on meeting to thrash through choices so that all were included in the decision process. For this and phase 2 that was never going to happen. Phase 3 for Holcombe to Teignmouth requires a much more indepth consultation to take part. For phase 1 & 2 I’m sad to say that this is as much as we can do to influence those designers.

When David Cameron appeared at Dawlish after the repairs of 2014 I think it was fair to say that most in the Country formed an opinion. The opinion was that Dawlish and the Railway would get whatever was needed to secure it’s future. That was a classic knee jerk reaction to a sensationally reported event over the globe. I’m fairly certain that the promises of money being no object and whatever is required will be provided where nothing but spin without long term thought. The reality is that NR have been given a job to do within a set amount of money. That prevents them from seriously involving the local community for a preferred option. They have to account to Government and offer the best value option. That is exactly what the end result will be so lets not lay the blame at NR’s feet when ultimately they wern’t the ones who made the original misleading statements about what Dawlish could expect.

When will work begin?

Plans are now in place for work to commence in late May. Work will continue 24 hours a day and 7 days a weak with the only pauses during high tides and storms. There is a break to protect the Holiday season! (Oddly amusing when you the long term effect is considered) Work will recommence during September. If all follows as planned then phase 1 should be complete by spring 2020 and will roll directly into the start of the yet to be released plans for phase 2. Precast sections will be craned into position by cranes positioned in Marine Parade. Concrete pouring for the newly created void will likely be completed by use of under track pipes. That is similar to the repairs pf 2014. We will not be seeing a jack up barge this time. Costs are being tightly controlled with £80 Million to cover from Kennaway to Dawlish Warren. When you consider that the 2014 cost was £50 Million for a small section, it asks the question, was that somehow poorly controlled or is the budget for a “New Wall” seriously cheap? make your own decision on that!

Why the hurry?

CrossCountry Voyager in it’s preferred dry environment. The use of this type of train only causes a false impression of railway closures at Dawlish

I have regular “Hissy fits” as followers of my ramblings will be only too aware of. What makes my blood boil quicker than anything is when Dawlish is misrepresented. I and many like me are fed up of seeing the inappropriate use of the CrossCountry Voyager trains. The Plymouth Sutton MP, Luke Pollard, has raised this subject in the House of Commons to back our calls for the introduction of the now redundant and stored HST sets. Voyagers have exposed brake resistors on their roof. They are not permitted on the wall during spray conditions. This is a case of the wrong type of rolling stock being used, What it is not but gets reported as, is a failure of the line operation. NR do a magnificent job in keeping the line open during all conditions and closures to GWR have been just 3 in 5 years!

The inclusion of Voyager cancellations seriously corrupts the facts used by so many. GWR have invested a huge sum in providing the new IET trains and tests were insisted on to ensure they were able to run on this line in any condition. There have been two incidents to date with the IET having issues during bad weather at Dawlish. Hitachi fully investigated but, the interesting fact with the two incidents is this, They were 800 models specified by Government and not the 802 class specified by GWR. So… Designers and those specifying really need to take notice from those who know conditions best rather than using a model to answer reality.

The plans for resilience are specified to cover the next 100 years. Testing of the 1:25 model has just begun and are expected to last two months. For many of us, we believe final design and commencement of work needs to be held back until those tests are completed. In simple terms, How many people would build a new house while tests on its structure were in early stages? How many would expect their local planning committee to say, go ahead and change whichever bits you want as you go? It sounds like a live experimental building project without restriction. Deferring the commencement is just sensible until a final plan and design is agreed and presented. It should be just as relevant to NR as to any of us building a structure.

We typically have 3 or 4 easterly storms during a winter season and the rising sea levels being used are for in 100 years time and not this winter! I implore both NR and the Planning Committee to take a breath. A three month delay could ensure that all tests and factors have been correctly considered and that design will not need to be altered in a Heath Robinson fashion. There is one chance to get this right and it should not be allowed to begin until all facts and designs have been fully established and accepted as true representation. We have now had an approach from representatives of Arup asking for our input and footage of Dawlish conditions.

We are, and have always been keen to help any of those professional bodies concerned with the sea wall. NR, GWR, XC and BTP all have access to our camera feeds in their control rooms. Any previous footage they need is sent over to help solve questions whenever they request it. That is as far as we can help. We are not qualified in any specific areas, nor do we offer expert opinion on matters we know nothing about.

What we are expert in however is, what Dawlish looks like during a storm. We know the exact conditions that are likely to cause disruption and difficulties at Dawlish. Our opinions are formed from 5 years of watching the wave patterns in all conditions and wind effect. Believe me when i say after a while it becomes imprinted in the brain! It would appear that Arup may well accept that and We are delighted that they have requested our footage and comments to try to help their tests.

What does this mean for Dawlish Tourism?

Sadly we are fairly certain that this will have a direct impact on those numbers using Dawlish as a destination. For 180 years the unique aspect of Dawlish has allowed visitors to watch uninterrupted views of trains passing along the Brunel coastal railway. One of the most photographed sections of railway in the World! It is sad that this heritage is about to be lost without so much as a public comment from historical and heritage experts. It would certainly be different if we concreted over the Royal Albert Bridge!

We have already lost the Air Show and the numbers that visited Dawlish so to run the risk of losing the thousands of photographers recording trains on the wall is a bitter and expensive pill to swallow. Of course some will still come as the opportunity for a view from the path will still be there. What will be lost are those all important shots from the beach and breakwaters of the movement from Dawlish Warren to Kennaway Tunnel.

If ever you have been in a station while rail enthusiasts are clicking away, you will notice how they usually congregate on the opposite platform to their subject. It’s the view from track to roof that makes the picture work. With the raised footpath being similar to a platform profile you will understand why the enthusiasm will diminish. Certainly those long shots of a half hidden train will be unappealing.

Chris Grayling, Minister for Transport, Anne-Marie Morris Teignbridge MP and Cllr Andrea Davis PRTF Chair at Dawlish Station for funding announcement. No response has been offered to our direct questions to the Minister or Local MP

I have requested a response from the Minister for Heritage and Tourism as well as the Minister for Transport and our local MP Anne Marie Morris about the issues covered. As yet and inspite of many phone conversations with their representatives, no response from anyone has been received. We will of course publish any that do arrive.

I haven’t asked NR for a direct quote. I don’t need to as i can pretty much write it myself and it is an accurate response to cover what they have been asked to do. They are consulting with experts to protect the resilience of the line for 100 years. The experts tell them an increased wall by 2.5 metres is the answer and so that’s what they are putting into practice.

It is not their fault Dawlish was promised so much more interaction and options. Those words have turned out to be throw away comments made by people who were never going to be involved with the project. The good people and visitors of Dawlish have every reason to be angry and frustrated by that lack of communication. The saddest part of all? Is that if you take the time to ask local opinion then around 90% are in total agreement that resilience is required. If the bodies had carried out a more involved design and options process people wouldn’t be so angry. To lose the very essence of Dawlish is what is being delivered without asking and the people are passionate about their home!